Starting Seeds Indoors: How to prevent tall and floppy seedlings

The lettuce, beet and radish seeds planted in my Burpee seed starter were off to a great start. Every seed nestled in its comfy little peat pot germinated as expected. I felt so happy the moment I peered through the clear dome of the “greenhouse” to find the first seedlings popping through the soil. It looked as though each one had freed itself from the confines of the soil to reach towards the sunlight.  


Starting spring garden seeds indoors

But little did I know, that was the beginning of my seed starting troubles. The problem developed when each precious seedling kept reaching and reaching and reaching for the sun………


Light deficient seedlings

When seedlings grow tall and floppy (referred to as “leggy” in gardening lingo) it’s a sign that they are not getting enough light. Seedlings without sufficient light will start to lean towards the closest light source – whether it’s a window, opened door or light bulb. When this happened to my seedlings, my first thought was that they were just fast growers. However, as they grew thinner, taller and floppier, I figured something had gone wrong. I searched Google for images of healthy seedlings and mine didn’t look like any of the pictures I saw. As a mom, my first instinct was to figure out a way to fix the problem and save my poor babies. Perhaps providing them with direct light would make them feel better? But it’s hard to recover from light deficiency at such an early age. Light deficient seedlings are more susceptible to disease and aren’t likely to make it once they’re transplanted into the garden anyway.

So into the compost bin they went….along with a few of my tear drops.

Tips for successfully starting seeds indoors

Early on, seeds need warmth, more than light, to germinate. However, once seedlings pop through the soil (which can take anywhere from days to weeks depending on the plant variety), strong, direct light – at least 12 to 16 hours per day – becomes very important. The key here is direct light and continuous light. That’s why a sunny window in my house didn’t work well.

So back to Home Depot I go……

Build your own grow light system

It’s easy to make your own grow light system that’s perfect for germination – and you don’t need a lot of fancy or expensive equipment!

Here’s what you need: 

• one 4-shelf storage unit (36W x 14L x 54H)

• one 4-foot (48″) fluorescent shop lights (fits two tube bulbs).  You need one light for each shelf. Select a light that suspends from chains, not the type that mounts to a ceiling. You’ll need to suspend the shop light ~2 inches above seeds/plants and adjust as plants grow taller.

• two 4-foot (48″) T8 (or 32-watt) florescent light bulbs (one cool/one white; or 2 natural light)


A household storage shelf work great!



4-foot plug in shop light

Here’s what you do:

1. Assemble the tiered shelf according to the package instructions. If the shelves are adjustable, leave 12-16″ between each shelf to allow ample room for the light box and the height of growing seedlings.

2. Assemble the shop light according to the package instructions and attach a light to each shelf.

3. Insert the light bulbs.

4. Grow!



DIY tiered grow light stand